Incubus hugely successful -- only few know it


July 9, 2004


Over the course of five albums, the San Fernando, California quintet Incubus has transcended its roots in the nu-metal/rap-rock explosion of the late '90s to become one of the most melodic, trippy and evocative modern rock bands, as well as one of the most successful, though you're forgiven if you aren't familiar with it.

As even the charismatic and poster-boy handsome vocalist Brandon Boyd admits, the group is "that band that's really big that nobody's ever heard of." But the group is headlining at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont on Wednesday night. (Some seats remain for the show; Sparta opens.)

I spoke with Boyd as the group toured in support of its latest album "A Crow Left of the Murder," which incorporates more of its classic-rock roots (a la Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd) while continuing to branch out into experimental sounds by making liberal use of analog synthesizers and funk, hip-hop and worldbeat rhythms.


*7:30 p.m. Wednesday
*Allstate Arena, 6920 N. Mannheim, Rosemont
*Tickets, $32.50
*Call (312) 559-1212

Q. Tell me about making the new album.

A. It was similar in respect to making the last one in that the way we usually write is we end up storing songs as ideas for sometimes a year and a half on end, exploring some of them sort of briefly, going, "That's a cool idea," and then just moving to the next one. So when it's time for us to actually write a record, we usually gather in a room and everyone just sort of spills over all these ideas; we get this dry-erase board out and sort of find a way to title some of the ideas. We went to this house to write every day; to demo music. We were there for probably three months, and the music-writing process just went so much more swiftly than it ever had gone before. We were just really excited about these ideas and demos.

We went to Atlanta to record the record with Brendan O'Brien [Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine]. We were still very much in that mindset of just like, you get really excited and ecstatic and kind of anxious to get these things down and hear them the way they're going to sound. So we ended up recording the record in probably two and a half weeks. We tweaked it for a couple of days, and spent the last few days just mixing. But it was a definitely the fastest record we ever made.

Q. Bassist Ben Kenney from the Roots joined the band for this album. But it doesn't sound as if you had any difficulties incorporating a new member.

A. I can't think of a better word: It was amazing. It was almost like getting a new lease to start fresh again. Ben has this illustrious history thus far in music. He's played in some really great projects; he played with the Roots! He's the most diverse musician I have ever worked with; I would even go as far [as] saying I've never seen anybody with as positive a sense of music as Ben has. Maybe the closest person I would think would be Mike [Einziger], our guitar player. So, the two of them together, they started figuring each other out, which happened like the second day -- they were writing music together immediately. It was like we were a new band all of a sudden.

The way things were happening was so much more swift and quick and enjoyable. Like I said, it really felt like we got to start over again. The enthusiasm coming into this record was sort of unparalleled. The closest I could equate it to would be when we first made our first record.

Q. Incubus toured with the Roots on Moby's AreaOne Festival. Were you a fan?

A. Yeah, absolutely. That's where we met Ben. I had heard them before, but actually seeing them live, I got a chance to appreciate what they do and how they are probably the most innovative hip-hop group out there right now. ?uestlove is incredible. He's also one of the more versatile musicians out there at the moment, participating in so many different projects; it's kind of amazing. We met Ben, and then about a year ago, Mike was hell-bent on putting out this little side project called Time-Lapse Consortium, like psychedelic funk songs he was writing with [Incubus drummer] Jose [Pasillas]. He put together this 12-piece orchestra. He wanted me to come in and do some vocals on a couple things, and that was the first time we played with him. At that time it was a side project, but secretly in our minds, that was Ben's audition.

We did this one show at the Roxy in L.A., and it was a blast. Then a couple of days after that we're like, "Hey, Ben, you wanna be in our band?"

Q. I've heard that you work in an unusual way compared to many rock vocalists these days, in that you add your vocals to the songs very early in the writing process, as opposed to just laying them on top after the musicians have already written the instrumental parts of the tune.

A. Most of the time they come in very early; they usually happen right at the inception of most ideas. The way I like to write is just by kind of following my nose. I'm not the most educated musician in the world; I don't write it down, per se, I sort of mess around with the melodies. Michael will play something and the melodies just sort of happen. We've been making music long enough that he can anticipate where I'm going to go. So, in that sense, it's cool and reliable, but then Michael is also kind of amazing in that he doesn't repeat himself a lot; he's constantly challenging me.

It would seem a little too detached for me to come in after the fact. I would feel too intimidated by that. It would seem to me a lot of music is written like that. I can actually tell when singers write that way. I like to write with the band, and they write to me. I'll change things to them, and they'll write things to me as well. We're constantly producing each other. To bring somebody in like Brendan [O'Brien], he gets to be the needed objective sixth opinion who sorts it all out.

Q. As far as the lyrics go, where do you get your inspiration?

A. That is a really good question, and it's also proven to be one of the more difficult ones to answer, because I don't really know. I'll hear a sound, and a melody just appears in my head. Sometimes I don't know whether it's a melody that I heard when I was a little kid that I'm somehow subconsciously re-circulating. Or someone will say a word from across the room. It's hard to describe how those things sort of happen.

Q. How do you know when a song is a keeper?

A. Usually we rely on whether or not the guys in the band like it or not. We're all, unfortunately, kind of snobs. [Laughs] Wait, I'll just speak for myself: I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to music! I think everyone sort of has that inner snob when it comes to what kind of band they want to listen to. In the end, it's what we would like to hear coming out of the speakers.


Q. Well, where do you see yourselves fitting in today on the musical spectrum? Incubus is on a pretty short list of modern rock bands that can headline in the arenas.

A. I sort of see us as that band that's really big that nobody's ever heard of. We, at times, really like that -- the fact that we can play an arena and walk down the street in the city and nobody knows who we are. Then you have you have a chance to actually have a life, after the fact. None of us got into this business for the celebrity aspect. That word becomes synonymous with entertainment, that if you're going to be an entertainer in any regard, you must be a celebrity. But we're not interested in that.


Q. Well, everyone talks about you, but I think Mike's position as a sex symbol is underrated.

A. That's what you think? I actually totally agree with you! You've always got to watch out for the quiet ones, and Mike is a little heartbreaker.